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The Best Cities to Visit in Canada

A collaborative post with some of the best cities to visit in Canada for families, including Quebec City, Vancouver, and Nova Scotia.

Note that some of these locations may have been visited at no cost for purposes of review.

I’ve lived in both Massachusetts and Washington State, which are both relatively short drives to the Canadian border. Despite that, there are still many places in Canada that I haven’t had the opportunity to visit.

There’s so much of this beautiful country to explore, whether you are a skier, nature lover, or  prefer exploring cities. I asked some family travel bloggers to contribute their reviews on the best cities to visit in Canada with kids. Did we miss your favorite? Leave us a comment below.

A collaborative post with some of the best places and cities to visit in Canada, including Quebec City, Vancouver, and Nova Scotia.

The Best Cities to Visit in Canada For Families

Photo credit Lisa Grabelle

Vancouver by Lisa Grabelle (one of the best cities to visit in Canada near Seattle)

Breathtaking and hip Vancouver has it all…and so much more! From spectacular natural beauty to top-rated museums to world-class shopping to a virtual foodie’s paradise to outdoor activities all year round, every family can find the perfect itinerary to suit their travel passions.

Known as super-cool “VanGroovy,” this multi-cultural city’s family friendly highlights include: exploring Granville Island (don’t miss their farmer’s market), playing at gorgeous Kitsilano Beach, learning at the Museum of Anthropology (check out the mummies!), strolling along beautiful Coal Harbour, having adventures at Capilano Suspension Bridge (walking the bridge is so scary yet super fun), skiing and hiking at Grouse Mountain, exploring Stanley Park and its aquarium, and shopping at Robson Street and Gastown.

Read more about Vancouver here.

Photo credit: Carrick Buss

Whistler, British Columbia by Along for the Trip

Whistler, British Columbia is a place our family fell in love with the minute we arrived, and although it is a fantastic year-round destination, Whistler really shines in winter. We were blown away by both the incredible terrain, and the sheer amount of activities to do in Whistler Village.

On the slopes, families will love the Peak 2 Peak Gondola that spans the valley between Whistler and Blackcomb mountains. Be sure to wait in the special line to catch one of the glass-bottom gondolas for a breathtaking view. The Nintendo game lounges, enchanted forest, and tubing hills are also family favorites.

With a dizzying array of restaurants and activities to choose from, après ski at Whistler is amazing. We loved strolling through the village in the evenings for some shopping, ice skating at the Olympic park, and for an ice cream cone at Cow’s. Hotels are plentiful, making it convenient for families to stay near the action.

On Sundays, grab a hot cocoa and check out the Fire and Ice Show where Whistler’s best skiers cut loose with aerial stunts through flaming hoops set to music. The kids will love it!

Read more on Whistler here.

Photo credit Lillie Marshall

Mont Tremblant, Quebec by Lillie Marshall

Most people associate Mont Tremblant, Quebec with skiing and winter, but the summer delights of the charming mountain town are not to be missed for family travelers. There are rock walls to climb, bungee trampolines, gondolas to the top of the stunning mountain, a birds of prey show, mountain luges, luscious hotels and pools, a lake with boating, and delicious food. The architecture is also delightful throughout. I would highly recommend checking out Mont Tremblant in summer. It’s fun for all ages!

Photo credit Wandering Wagars

Manitoulin Island, Ontario

Situated on the northern edge of Lake Huron between the shores of Ontario and Michigan sits the largest lake-island in the world, Manitoulin Island. This island, popular with cottagers, is slowly becoming recognized as one of the most underrated tourist attractions in Northern Ontario. Manitoulin Island is filled to overflowing with indigenous culture, beautiful waterfalls, stunning provincial parks, dark sky preserves, and quaint, quiet fishing towns.

For those looking to explore further, Manitoulin Island is home to one of Canada’s top-rated hikes, the cup and saucer trail, which offers epic views of the island. And a hop on the famous Chi Cheemaun Ferry will take you to the incredible Fathom Five National Marine Park, and the famous Bruce Peninsula National Park, just an hour-and-a-half away.

See more on Manitoulin Island here.

Photo credit Dave Parfitt

Toronto, Ontario by Dave Parfitt

The cosmopolitan city of Toronto is Canada’s largest and full of family fun activities.  It may sound cliché, but there is definitely something that appeals to every member of the family including: world class museums, theater, cultural venues, sporting events, animals, and a fantastic amusement park.  Animal lovers should combine a visit to the Toronto Zoo with Ripley’s Aquarium of Canada.

The Royal Ontario Museum contains skeletons of dinosaurs, mastodons, and sabre tooth cats in addition to mummies, and a crawl through bat cave.  Those technically inclined should head to the Ontario Science Museum filled with hands-on interactive exhibits.  The Hockey Hall of Fame is mecca for fans of Canada’s favorite sport.  For cultural sites and architecture, check out the historic castle Casa Loma and then take in the panorama of the entire city from atop the 1,136-foot-tall CN Tower.  In the summertime, thrill seekers head to Canada’s Wonderland, the most popular theme park in the country with 60+ rides and 16 roller coasters.

Read more about Toronto here.

Photo credit Anne-Sophie Redisch

Prince Edward Island by Sophie’s World

Prince Edward Island was the highlight of an Eastern Canada road trip I took with my daughters a few years ago. Our favourites were:

The beaches – In October we couldn’t get the full playing in the ocean experience, but loved wandering along red sandy beaches and looking at light houses.

Lobster – Coming from Norway, where it’s all about fish, PEI’s lobsters were a treat. My then 7-year-old insisted on eating lobster every day! They’re everywhere on PEI: delicious, affordable, and fun to eat.

Charlottetown – We stayed in a B&B in the centre of Charlottetown, perfect for strolling around the diminutive town centre and the quay, with cute cafes and quirky little shops.

Avonlea Village – Anne of Green Gables is alive and well on PEI, and Avonlea, her mythical land, is recreated. Here, characters from the books roam around, you can dress up like that endearing red-head, play in the old-fashioned playground and write “Anne Shirley has a very bad temper” on the blackboard in the school room. The author’s white house (with green gables), is open for visitors, too, with gardens and surrounding forest. Lovely!

We enjoyed this little Canadian province immensely. PEI is fun and relaxing, with stunning scenery, fab food and laid-back locals. PS: don’t miss ice cream from COWS Creamery!

Read more here.

Photo credit Tamara Gruber

Montreal by Tamara Gruber

Montreal is one of the large modern cities that still keeps its historic center giving it that blend of architecture, food, history, and culture. It is also one of the few places where you can feel a bit like you are in Europe without skipping across the pond. The city is extremely family friendly.

Down at the Old Port you can zipline, climb a ropes course, rent pedal boats, and visit the Science Centre. You can also bike along the canal and stop at Marché Atwater market for a picnic. Or head out to the Biodome or the Botanical Gardens. In the summer, local and visitors go over the Parc Jean-Drapeau for a swim or to visit La Ronde amusement park. One of the best things about the city is that there is always something going on! From music, sports, and food, it is a city of festivals.

See more about Montreal here.

Photo credit Celebrate the Weekend

Mont Tremblant by Celebrate the Weekend

There are a great number of ski resorts in New Hampshire and Maine within two-to-four-hour drive from our home in a Boston suburb, yet for our annual family ski getaway we chose to cross the border to Mont-Tremblant resort in Canadian Quebec. Located in the Laurentian Mountains on the shores of Lake Tremblant northwest of Montreal, Mont-Tremblant is seven+hour drive from Boston, but for us it was worth all the extra driving time!

In short, the reason is – Mont-Tremblant’s pedestrian village at the foot of the mountain where you can find all the dining, shopping and activities you may desire during your family winter getaway.  You can forget about your car for a few days and just enjoy the magical winterland atmosphere, whether you ski or not!

Winnipeg

Winnipeg, Manitoba by Heidi Gollub

Winnipeg, Manitoba is a cultural hub located smack dab in the geographic center of Canada and North America. A quick drive up from North Dakota and you will discover an urban oasis of world-class museums, whimsical playgrounds, and festivals for every season.

Start your visit by exploring The Forks Historic Site, a picturesque spot dedicated to preserving the 6,000-year history of the area. There, where the Assiniboine and Red rivers meet, you will find the architecturally stunning Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Manitoba Theatre for Young People, Manitoba Children’s Museum, restaurants, buskers, and shops galore. In the summer, enjoy the sprawling playground, splash pad and skate park. In snowy months, take advantage of ice skating, tobogganing, Crokicurl, and family programming that includes bannock-making in a teepee with indigenous elders. Next, head to Assiniboine Park and Zoo, where polar bears, playgrounds, and a magnificent children’s garden await! 

If you have time for a jaunt out to Birds Hill Park, be sure to add Pineridge Hollow to your list. Stop by the seasonal farmer’s market, feed the resident animals, and be sure to stay for a delectable brunch.

Provided by Heidi Gollub, contributor to Kids are a Trip and R We There Yet Mom.

Oak Hammock

Photo credit: Ethan Gelber

Oak Hammock Marsh By Ethan Gelber

About 20 kilometers north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, sprawls Oak Hammock Marsh, approximately 36 square kilometers of prairie wetlands, woods and grassland. Although it is only a small, recovered and restored wildlife management area used for breeding waterfowl and migratory birds, it was once part of a much larger habitat and continues to play an outsize role in stabilizing the area for natural purposes and, importantly, educating people about it.
In support of education, a superb, paid-access, award-winning interpretive center is built along the banks of the marsh and filled with informative and interactive exhibits. It also provides access to naturalist-led activities, like wildlife surveys of frogs, butterflies, birds, fish or dragonflies, and marsh-appreciation infrastructure such boardwalks, canoes and hiking trails (the latter tackled by snowshoe in winter!).
My family loved both the interpretive center and the marsh, as they provide well-designed and fun teaching and learning tools for people of all ages, especially young kids. The opportunity to peacefully get up close and personal with marsh critters was also incredible.Oak Hammock Marsh is registered as an Important Bird Area by BirdLife International and as a Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention.

Photo credit Darcie Maranich

Banff/Lake Louise by Darcie Maranich

If ever you’ve wanted to visit a destination that looks as though it was plucked straight from a fairytale, the Canadian Rockies should definitely make your list. Around each corner in Banff National Park–located on Alberta’s western border—visitors are treated to a virtual feast for their eyes. Alpine meadows, glacial lakes and snow-capped mountains await.  And while the views are truly magnificent, Banff is more than just a pretty place.

Endless, family-friendly opportunities for active pursuits, like hiking, canoeing and horseback riding, abound. Unlike many of America’s national parks, Banff also conveniently offers a wide variety of lodging and quality dining options within the park. Visitors  should keep their eyes peeled for wildlife. Bears (both Grizzly and Black), longhorn sheep and elk are frequently spotted during summer months, especially along the popular and scenic Bow Valley Parkway. If you visit, don’t skip Lake Louise. It’s about an hour from Banff, but well worth the road trip, even if you stay just long enough to snap your next Instagram favorite.

See more about Banff here.

Photo credit Kids are a Trip

New Brunswick by Kirsten Maxwell

The southern coast of New Brunswick is the ultimate destination for adventure loving families. In St. Andrews-by-the-Sea, families can take a whale watching excursion, play golf, and drive (yes, drive) on the bottom of the ocean all in one day. St. Martins sea caves are perfect for understanding the effects of high tide, as visitors can walk inside caves and on the beaches, only to have their footprints erased hours later as the tide rises. Take a drive through the Fundy Trail Parkway with its spectacular viewpoints. Along the way, pull over to climb the cable ladder leading to Fuller Falls and walk on the suspension bridge over the Salmon River. Don’t miss hiking in Fundy National Park with over 60 miles of trails, stunning waterfalls, covered bridges, and breathtaking views. Make a stop at Cape Enrage where you can zip line with views overlooking the Bay of Fundy. Hopewell Rocks is the main attraction in the area where visitors come to see the highest tides in the world. Plan on visiting twice in one day to see the tidal differences. See it by foot in the morning and kayak in the afternoon. New Brunswick has so many adventures the kids will never say they’re bored!

See more about New Brunswick here.

Photo credit The Travelling Mom

Laval, Quebec by The Travelling Mom

The island suburb of Laval offers some serious fun and adventure for family travelers. Just 20 minutes by Metro from downtown Montreal, Laval is packed with fantastic attractions, including the only dedicated space sciences museum in Canada, the Cosmodome, indoor surfing and bodyboarding at Maeva Surf, thirty climbing walls at Clip ‘n Climb, the chance to pilot your own 737 plane or F16 fighter jet at Aero Sim, and one amazing indoor skydiving experience at Sky Adventures. Should you tire of adventure, hit up the largest shopping mall in the region, the Carrefour Laval. For a stellar meal sure to wow even the pickiest eaters, dine at Café Ricardo in Centropolis.

Photo credit Lisa Goodmurphy

Ottawa, Ontario by Gone With the Family

The Canadian capital of Ottawa, Ontario is one of the most family-friendly destinations in the country with year-round fun both indoors and outdoors. As the country’s capital, Ottawa is home to a number of world-class museums that are wonderful for families including the Canadian Museum of History (which includes a Children’s Museum), the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Nature and the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Other attractions include the Rideau Canal which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that becomes an outdoor skating rink in winter, Rideau Hall which is the official residence of the Governor General and historic ByWard Market where visitors will find a farmer’s market, shops, restaurants, cafes and the original BeaverTails outlet where they can indulge in one of the famous pastries. Parliament Hill is a must for visitors to Ottawa even if it’s just for a photo op. The popular Changing of the Guard ceremony is also held on the Hill daily during the summer months, there are free tours of the legislative building year-round and the best views of the city are from the Observation Deck of the Peace Tower.

Ottawa also hosts many popular festivals including the Canadian Tulip Festival in May and Winterlude in February and, of course, there’s no better place to celebrate Canada Day on July 1st than with entertainment and fireworks on Parliament Hill.

See more about Ottawa here.

Photo credit Globetotting

Tofino, British Columbia by Katja Gaskell

We completely fell in love with the small town of Tofino on Vancouver Island when we visited. This is Canada’s almost most westerly point and is simply beautiful. The town still feels small and relatively undiscovered (even though it’s incredibly popular) and you can walk miles along windswept beaches, bordered by ancient cedar forests, and hardly see another soul.

There are plenty of activities from rock pooling and surfing to hiking, fishing – and swimming for those who dare to brave the cold water! Go in search of wildlife and spot brown bears foraging for food along the shoreline, or watch Humpback whales breach in the ocean. The town itself has some excellent restaurants and there are some wonderful hotels catering to families as well. Tofino is especially popular in summer but the town also has a reputation as being a great spot for winter storm watching.

Learn more on Globetotting.

Amie from Ciao Bambino also recommended Tofino

Looking to escape to a wild and unspoiled coastal wilderness that feels like the edge of the earth? Look no further than Tofino, British Columbia. Located on the remote western shore of Vancouver Island, there is no shortage of awe-inspiring outdoor adventures from this laid-back surf town. Favorite activities include hiking through the old-growth forests of Pacific Rim National Park and bear watching along the rugged inlets of Clayoquot Sound.

Thousands of whales migrate down this coastline and whale watching opportunities are truly exceptional. In addition, Tofino is famous for epic surfing and families can understand why with the guidance of incredible local instructors. Tofino’s remote position means it takes some effort to access, but it is well worth it and a true trip of a lifetime. Luxury-loving families may want to consider exploring Tofino from the award-winning Wickaninnish Inn — read our complete family-friendly review for details.

Ucluelet, British Columbia by Tara Cannon

With all the accolades and glossy press they receive, it must be tough being Tofino’s neighbour The nearby town of Ucluelet, however, also makes for a wonderful Vancouver Island getaway. This relatively affordable oceanside community has lots to offer for families, including long stretches of coastline for beachcombing, hiking through ancient forests on the Wild Pacific Trail, and amazing wildlife watching — especially if you get lucky enough to see black bears at the Thorton Creek Hatchery. The town is also home to a very forward-looking aquarium. The Ucluelet Aquarium is unique in that it features exclusively sea creatures collected from the local waters and keeps them only for a season. After their short stay, the specimens are returned back to the ocean by the community.

See more about Ucluelet here.

Cape Breton by Tara Schatz

For maritime adventures that never end, head to Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia. Home to the world-famous Cabot Trail and Cape Breton Highlands National Park, the island offers renowned hiking trails, majestic vistas, and incredible wildlife experiences. Kid-friendly highlights include whale watching, an interactive tour of the 18th century Fortress of Louisbourg, a sunset hike on the Skyline Trail, and camping near the sea in the national park.

If you do decide to camp in Cape Breton Highlands, we highly recommend Broad Cove Campground. Park rangers host s’mores parties on the beach, and there are lots of great trails to explore near the campground. For a taste of Acadian culture and music, check out the bustling town of Chéticmap, which is also the best town on the Cabot Trail for shopping and dining.

Read more here.

Cape Breton National Park by Wandering Educators

Located on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Cape Breton Highlands National Park features the Cabot Trail, which is an extraordinary drive – one of the most beautiful in the world. At around 185 miles, most of it alongside the ocean, this is a one of a kind road trip destination. Geographically, it is an incredible place – the northern end of the Appalachian Mountains sloping down to the sea, a winding road where beauty unfolds around every curve, gorgeous sunrises and sunsets accompanied by the crashing of the waves, and hidden beaches and secluded coves galore.

Your kids will love the plethora of wildlife (bears, moose, eagles, seals, and whales, for starters), the opportunities to run and play in the wild, local ceilidhs where they can dance, and excellent local food. Whether you camp or find family-friendly hotels, hit some of the 26 featured hiking trails or stack stones on a beach, or find your bliss by birdwatching, seeking waterfalls, canoeing, engaging your inner geologist, or kayaking, this is one family journey that will be long-remembered.

Read more here.

Photo credit the Barefoot Nomad

Kelowna and Okanagan Valley in British Columbia from the Barefoot Nomad

Visiting Kelowna and the surrounding Okanagan Valley, in the interior of British Columbia, makes for a fun family vacation. While Kelowna and the Okanagan Valley are well known for their thriving wine culture and tours, there’s also plenty of things to do in this stunning lake and mountain valley for adults as well as kids.

There’s a gorgeous downtown complete with lots of kid friendly pubs, trendy restaurants and ice cream parlors and a long, kid-friendly boardwalk that runs along Okanagan Lake with sandy beaches, a water trampoline park, a huge playground, a skatepark and a giant kids spray park complete with a water dragon slide.

Outside of the downtown area, there are plenty of outdoor activities, like family friendly hikes, swimming off the many beaches, kayaking, boating or visiting the Kangaroo Creek Farm and Hoofprints Barnyard. In cooler weather, or the very rare bad summer day, there’s the huge H20 Indoor Adventure and Fitness Center with water slides, a wave pool, lazy river, diving boards, surf wave simulator and indoor cardio and weight rooms. There’s also the always fun EnergyPlex indoor playground that is always a huge hit with kids, with trampolines, foam pits, a rock wall, rope swings, a huge cube climb, and more.

If you’re visiting in winter, Kelowna has some of the warmest weather in Canada and one of the only lakes in Canada that never freezes. To top it all off, if you’re into skiing or snowboarding, the international Big White Ski resort is only a half hour away.

See more things to do in Kelowna for families.

Photo credit Bucket List Publications

Moncton, New Brunswick by Bucket List Publications

Whether you want to take it easy or stay active, there’s plenty to experience in Moncton, New Brunswick. Magic Mountain Water Park offers a wonderland of tubes, pools, and waterslides suitable for families of all ages. From a splash pad for kids, to the Torpedo Drop Capsule for the daredevils, there is something for everyone. Almost in the same parking lot, you can discover Magnetic Hill Zoo, the largest zoo in Atlantic Canada. Also around the corner is Magnetic Hill where you can drive to the bottom of the hill, take your foot off the brake, and like magic, your car will roll up the hill. Minutes away from the city center, you can visit TreeGO, Moncton’s aerial adventure course for adults and children, seven and above. If you’re looking for more education, visit the Resurgo Discovery Centre where kids can launch a rocket, build a truck, fly a plane, float a boat, and even send odd-shaped homemade crafts up a wind-tunnel. Your whole family will thank you for a visit to Moncton, New Brunswick.

Quebec City

Quebec City, Quebec

Quebec City is one of my favorite places in the world. It’s one of the best places to visit in Canada without a car, because almost everything is within walking distance. This quaint little Canadian city along the St. Lawrence River has a European feel, with sidewalk cafes, cobblestone streets, and beautiful parks. Must-dos include Abraham’s Bus and the Odyssey experience at the Plains of Abraham, the Musee de la Civilisation, and the Musee National Des Beaux-Arts Du Quebec. If you love music, consider visiting during the Festival d’Ete du Quebec.

See more things to do with kids in Quebec City here and the best places to stay in Quebec City here.

Peterborough

Peterborough and the Kawarthas

Residents of Peterborough County in Ontario know they are living in a gem of an area; they just hope that not a lot of people find out. Located about an hour and a half north of Toronto, Peterborough falls right in the midst of “cottage country,” a popular recreation destination for Canadians and those in the Northern US. Home to the majority of the Kawartha Lakes, and criss-crossed by the expansive Trent Severn Waterway, the region is popular for camping, fishing, boating, hiking, and other outdoor pursuits.

Halifax, Nova Scotia (one of the best places to visit in Canada during the summer)

We only spent a small amount of time in Halifax, but it captured our heart. This destination is one of the best places to visit in Canada during the summer, and offers gorgeous parks such as Point Pleasant, Fleming Park, and the Public Garden, as well as museums such as the Museum of Natural History.

Photo credit Thrifty NW Mom

Victoria, British Columbia from Thrifty NW Mom

The seaside city of Victoria, British Columbia, is more than just the capital of British Columbia, but also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Canada for any age.  Located on Vancouver Island, Victoria makes an ideal family friendly destination as the charming and historic downtown and Inner Harbor area are filled with activities that kids will love, all within easy walking distance.

A walk to Fisherman’s Wharf is a surefire way to entertain the kids as you feed the seals waiting alongside the docks. Take a water taxi to explore the Inner Harbor with views of the Parliament Building, the beautiful European architecture and the overflowing, colorful hanging baskets on every street corner. Looking for more adventure, take off on a whale watching adventure to the nearby islands for the afternoon.

For more fun in the city, head to the Royal BC Museum for history brought to life, including a giant wooly mammoth, recreations of frontier towns & the largest IMAX theater in BC. Older kids & teens might enjoy a splurge for high tea at the historic, chateau-style Fairmont Empress hotel with its delicious scones, cookies & sandwiches.

Just 30 minutes outside the city is Butchart Gardens, ranked one of the top gardens in the world. Kids will love discovering the ever-changing blooms, fountains, stepping stones & bridges as they explore the gardens. And no visit is complete without a stop at the Rose Carousel to ride the unique, hand-carved wooden animals.

See more about Victoria here.

Photo credit Active Kids Club

Newfoundland by Active Kids Club

This Island offers so much nature and adventure for a family. If you are looking for real nature experiences and like to meet real people,Newfoundland is for you.

We spent a week in Newfoundland a few years ago and hiked the The Skerwink Trail in Trinity Peninsula packed with stunning ocean views, bogs and grassy meadows.

In Elliston’s Puffin Site we watched up close puffins at one of the best spot to view seabirds in North America. This place did not disappoint as we came face to face with many puffins, and we got very close to the birds and the cliff edge.

In the iceberg capital of the world,- Twillingate we watched giant icebergs floating down the harbor and got close to the iceberg  and we even broke off pieces from bits drifting to the beach so we could taste 10,000-year-old ice.

Some other things to do in Newfoundland are whale watching and visiting Gros Morne National Park and the viking site L’anse aux Meadows. See more here.

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Tamara

Thursday 15th of February 2018

I'm looking forward to getting back to Canada this spring and exploring more of Quebec.